Those TSA Security Measures: Why Not Submit to The Body Scanners Instead?

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Have I ever had “the pleasure” of being patted down?

Yes. I didn’t like it, but I submitted to it. And the feeling of disgust didn’t last.

Why did I get one? I was on a one-way ticket to Atlanta, GA to visit my sister for the summer of 2002. I wasn’t sure whether I was returning to New York. One-way tickets had made TSAs prick up their ears since 9-11. I was separated from the rest of the travelers going on the plane, and was ordered to submit to being wanded and searched.

I was rocking a blue jean bustier from Lane Bryant that exposed my arms and shoulders, but not necessarily my breasts. Atlanta is known as Hot-Lanta, so I was prepared for The Heat. (Yeah, that was also the year of sexy jean bustiers from Lane, and I took advantage of it.) I remember a few black folks on board were particularly admiring of my outfit, which helped while I was being felt up.

When I raised my arms up, I was surprised at how naked and how large they were in the mirror, and how they made me look taller and larger. As if I were about to be strung up like a piece of meat. But what was more disconcerting were the stares of other air travelers, mostly white, who were silently waiting to board. It was almost as if they were looking for something to be revealed from my person as well, some confirmation that the worst could be expected about dark-skinned people.

Well, nothing at all was found on me, of course. I tried to joke while it was happening. Women and men touched my thighs and legs, but it was not intrusive as touching my genital area. That is something which is now requested of air travelers, thanks to the Underwear Bomber, the obviously disturbed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to let one go from the warmth of his boxers last Christmas.

Americans are currently flipping out over being physically patted down in these intimate ways or being viewed by a body scanner. Whoopi Goldberg weighed in on The View last week saying that the scanners and the pat-downs were a necessary evil, forestalling any kind of mid-air explosion, the running nightmare of many who travel by plane. She’s in a minority; many are calling for a protest slowdown at many airports during the Thanksgiving and Christmas travel rush. There are stories being whipped up of children (assisted and watched over by a parent) and women being humiliatingly searched. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not help matters when she got on her high horse to say that she would not submit to such a body search.

Some TSAs are not being cognizant of people’s dignity and comfort during searches. One man, Tom Sawyer, a bladder cancer survivor, interviewed on NBC Nightly News tonight said that the TSAs would not listen to him saying that he was wearing a special bladder bag and that they should be careful. Result, the bag burst, spilling urine onto his pants and legs, and humiliating him. The TSAs do not help their case when they don’t listen to passengers, thinking that it is mere whining or complaining.  Sawyer was offering relevant information, and it was brushed aside. 

Let me remind people right now that what the TSAs are doing is nothing compared to what El Al, the Israeli airline carrier, makes its passengers do before boarding one of its planes for The Holy Land. Furthermore, despite words to the contrary, there is proof that they racially profile. Yet, El Al is known as the safest airliner in the world. As Wikipedia states:

Passengers are asked to report three hours before departure. All El Al terminals around the world are closely monitored for security. There are plain-clothes agents and fully armed police or military personnel who patrol the premises for explosives, suspicious behavior, and other threats. Inside the terminal, passengers and their baggage are checked by a trained team. El Al security procedures require that all passengers be interviewed individually prior to boarding, allowing El Al staff to identify possible security threats. Passengers will be asked questions about where they are coming from, the reason for their trip, their job or occupation, and whether they have packed their bags themselves. The likelihood of potential terrorists remaining calm under such questioning is believed to be low […].[38]

At the check-in counter, passengers’ passports and tickets are closely examined. A ticket without a sticker from the security checkers will not be accepted. At passport control passengers’ names are checked against information from the FBI, Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Scotland Yard, Shin Bet, and Interpol databases. Luggage is screened and sometimes hand searched. In addition, bags are put through a decompression chamber simulating pressures during flight that could trigger explosives.[39] El Al is the only airline in the world that passes all luggage through such a chamber.[40] Even at overseas airports, El Al security agents conduct all luggage searches personally, even if they are supervised by government or private security firms.

I am a large black woman. I remained relatively calm and quiescent and let the TSAs do their jobs, and I was eventually released to board with the rest. But this is mild compared to what could have occurred in another situation at another time. Among blacks and people of color, there is a history of cops and other authorities forcing us roughly to submit to indignities and wounds even when we are completely innocent of any crime or infraction. It doesn’t matter if I am followed around in a store, or frisked, or asked for ID or stopped for driving while black.  I’ve been done all these things under the cover of normality.   I’m a criminal until it is found that I haven’t done a damn thing.

I think that regular American citizens are definitely getting a clue about how we blacks and people of color feel criminalized by such invasions of privacy and dignity on a daily basis. Their outrage is exactly how we feel about being felt up even in our private parts, as if we have a gun or stolen goods secreted there. I could go further, but this is how people can be demeaned as people.

Look. In the case of my Atlanta travel, I prepared myself to be touched by strangers in a manner that I might find intrusive. I simply refused to let the feel-ups bother me, because it is not necessarily about me, but about confounding the terrorists who want to do damage to us during our national holidays and celebrations.  There is a difference.  I think that people are not preparing themselves or their children for these adjustments. Emotion and hysteria is being whipped up, I believe, unnecessarily. (Or perhaps, something else comes up for people totally different from the experiences of Americans of color.)

People need to be thinking about how to address this situation, and especially with their children, so that they are not traumatized or altered by it. The elderly and the sick also need counsel and reassurance. There is no way that the authorities are going to revise all of these new draconian measures. They are here to stay. Next year, there might be newer ones to which some of us might object. So Americans are going to have to be proactive about normalcy. These measures are for everyone’s safety in the air, which is something that many have forgotten in the rush to judgment.

Those being scanned are being monitored in another room close to the general area. I doubt, due to the press of time to move passengers quickly but carefully through the screening process to their planes, that TSAs are gathered in this room to make funny or salacious comments about them. Or worse, to make permanent photographs of Americans being probed and made naked by the scanning machines. This is no joke.

The body scanners would seem to be less intrusive than the body pat-downs. You would not have to see them see you. I would suggest that people try for the scanners and the small dose of radiation they would have to absorb. I mean, how many times do people fly each year? I’m lucky if I fly once every year. How about you? What are you willing to take?

Then again, this episode might impress people to try train travel through Amtrak, but that’s another kettle of fish to consider.  Last I heard, Homeland Security needed to put more people into monitoring train tracks and routes.  And so it goes.

~ by blksista on November 22, 2010.

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